Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Series Previews

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Series Preview: Cubs vs. Pirates



Overview

I’ll admit it right here, right now: I listen to sports radio. Shoot me. I know you’ve all tried it too, so don’t judge me.

Anyway, after listening to hours worth of sports talk since the Cubs were swept by the Phillies yesterday afternoon, I must say I’m quite disgusted in the number of Cubs fans who have given up on this team already. You have your right to complain (lord knows we do), but to look ahead at the schedule and say the season is over is just short-sighted. As Steve Stone points out on his Twitter page, 12 of the next 49 games for the Cubs will be against above .500 teams.

While some of those matchups are at the Dodgers, at the Cardinals, and at the Giants, the remaining schedule is very Pirates/Reds loaded. Yeah, we’ve seen the Cubs crap their pants against playoff-caliber teams, but as long as they get into the playoffs then anything can happen. I don't care if they have to beat up on 12-year-olds in Williamsport to make it to the postseason, just get in.

A series against teams like Sh!tsburgh are the ones I worry about the most though. The Cubs must win. The Cubs must sweep. The Cubs must dominate. Say what you will about this team's ability, but they've consistently shown us they have the mental toughness of a jar of mayonnaise. That's more troublesome than anything else.

The Matchups
Charlie Morton vs. Randy Wells
Morton had a solid outing against the Cards in his last start but he is still a big bag of suck. He especially sucks against lefties (hitting .308/.362/.355 against him) and on the road (opponents hitting .283/.356/.443). However Morton is fairly unfamiliar to the Cubs as they have only faced him once, and we know what the Cubs do against unfamiliar opponents.

Randy had a tough go in Colorado that really wasn’t that big of a surprise considering it was against a strong left-handed hitting lineup. He probably would have had a similar result against the Phillies. Since the beginning of June, Wells has not lost back-to-back starts and has won every game in which the Cubs have scored at least 4 runs (aside from this last start in Colorado). Four runs ftw.

Zach Duke vs. Tom Gorzelanny
Duke is about the only recognizable name left for the Pirates, which means he will certainly be traded at some point before July 31, 2010. He has given up at least 7 hits in four of his last five starts, but has only walked more than two batters twice this whole season. The Cubs will have to hit their way on base. That’s usually not good news.

Tommy GoGo looked much more like a member of the Pirates than the Cubs in his last start and no one should be surprised. I know we were all jizzing ourselves after his gem against the Reds, but did you really think it would last? Oh Cubs fans, you ignorant sluts. Maybe the Gorz will enjoy some success against a team he is familiar with, but trusting this guy to start a meaningful game is like trusting Johnny Macchione with a can of Bud Light.

Ross Ohlendorf vs. Rich Harden
The Big Dorf Daddy has had a decent start to the second half of the season. He’s 3-1 with a 3.07 ERA in his last five starts. Not bad, but not great (especially since three of those starts came against the against the D-Backs, Nationals, and D-Backs again). Ohlendorf did shut down the Cubs earlier this season going 7 innings and giving up 0 runs in a 3-0 shutout. However, the guy seems wildly inconsistent as he will just as easily give up 5 walks as he will give up none.

It was tough to watch Harden pitch so well and the Cubs come away empty handed. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Harden took a perfect game into the sixth inning before issuing a walk and giving up a two-run jack to J-Roll. Harden was all over the place in the first half of the season, but his post-ASG ERA is at 1.95 and he (along with Wells) has been the most consistent Cubs pitcher over the last month.

Conclusion
As I said in the Overview, the pressure is on for the Cubs to sweep. The Cardinals are facing San Diego at home. The Padres won’t see Carpenter though, so there is a chance for the Cubs to pick up at least one game this weekend.

With all the injuries and the frustration, my main concern with this team is them losing their focus against a clearly inferior opponent. Ever since Marmol walked in the go-ahead run during the first game against the Phillies, it seems as if this team has just given up emotionally. Maybe the Pirates are what they need to regain their focus…or maybe they are the nail in the coffin.

Let’s play a little over/under. The Cubs sit 4.5 back of St. Louis. When you come back on Monday, where will that number be? I say under at 3.5.

Go Cubs.

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Series Preview: Cubs vs. Phillies

Series Previews
Match-Ups
Overview

Oh August, you are a cruel mother this year. The defending champs are up next for the Cubs, and we can only thank our lucky stars that this series in Chicago.

We all know the Cubs had a tough time in Colorado this last weekend, but the Phillies aren’t exactly rolling either. They were recently swept by the Marlins and their division lead is now down to 3.5 games.

After the Cubs pitching gave up 6, 5, 11, and 11 runs against the Rockies, it will be interesting to see how they matchup against a Phillies offense that has only scored more than 3 runs twice in August.

Speaking of matchups, the Cubs are sending three guys to the mound who have either been the closer, competed for the closer’s role, or have been speculated as a closer during their time with the Cubs. One of the best qualities of a closer is his ability to get strikeouts and the Cubs will need them against a Phillies team that leads the NL in homers.

The Matchups
August 11th - J.A. Happ vs. Rich Harden
Northwestern alum J.A. Happ returns to pitch in Chicago blah blah blah. Northwestern can suck it. Nothing but a bunch of trust-funding suckling, crewneck wearing nerds (Sorry, can’t help myself. State school baby). In his last start, Happ struck out 10 and threw a shutout…against a Rockies offense that embarrassed the Cubs. Although Happ has an identical record pitching at home and on the road (4-1), his numbers are considerably better away from Citizen’s Bank. Opponents are hitting .190/.241/.327 against Happ in their home parks. On the plus side, Happ threw 127 pitches in his last start, so fatigue could be a factor.

Harden was decent in his last start striking out 9 and giving up only 2 earned runs to the Reds. Lefties (and the Phillies have a lot of quality lefties) hit Harden well, but Rich’s SO/BB ratio is better against left-handers (3.56) than it is against righties (2.31). Harden has a career 0.90 against the Phillies, even though he’s only pitched 20 innings against them.

August 12th – Pedro Martinez vs. Jeff Samardzija
Neither of these guys has started a game in 2009, so who knows what to expect. In many ways, The Shark could be seen as a young Pedro. Samardzijaizjaijza is a hard throwing right-hander with a dynamic personality (although not quite as dynamic as Pedro’s) and tons of fan appeal. I’d like to give you some statistical analysis or something, but there isn’t much to talk about. The Shark has been a suckfest out of the bullpen and Pedro was knocked around a bit in the minors. Both bullpens should be ready to pitch a lot of innings.

August 13th – Cliff Lee vs. Ryan Dempster
A pitcher from the Cleveland Indians comes to the National League in a midseason trade and dominates. Sounds familiar, right? Since leaving the powerhouse division that is the AL Central, Lee is 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA and 5.00 SO/BB ratio. On the plus side, the Cubs have already seen Lee this season (June 19) and the lineup did a decent job on him. Lee pitched 7.0 innings in that game giving up 2 homers, 3 earned runs, 6 hits, and 3 walks.

Although the Rockies scored 5 runs against Dempster in his last start, only 2 of them were earned runs. Depending on what happens in the Pedro/Shark matchup, Dempster might need to eat some innings to give the bullpen a break. It was good to see Dempster go walk-free in his last start, but he has given up at least 8 hits in 5 of his last 6 starts.

Conclusion
Things have sucked lately for the Cubs and they aren’t getting any easier. The World Series champs are in town and the Cardinals open up a series with the Reds at home. There is a distinct possibility that the Cubs could find themselves 5-6 games out of first place after this series, especially when the Phillies are sending two of their hottest pitchers to the mound.

Players, coaches, and columnists all say that every game is the most important one during this time of the year, but I sincerely believe this series is more important than any other the Cubs will face this month. I believe this only because of what recently happened in Colorado and who the Cardinals are currently facing.

But as I always say, “When life gives you lemons, use them to pelt Cardinals fans.”

Go Cubs.

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Series Preview: Cubs at Colorado

Series Preview
Match-Ups
Overview

If you thought the Rockies would be contending for a playoff spot after losing Matt Holliday and inserting Jason Marquis into their starting rotation, then you are a dirty liar. And since I don’t associate with liars, I must ask you to please stop reading and leave this site. I’ll wait…(twiddling thumbs)…OK, now that all the liars are gone we can get to business.

Since firing manager Clint Hurdle after starting the season 18-28, the Rockies have gone 41-20. Although no player on their team has more than 20 homers (Tulowitzki) or 63 RBI (Hawpe), Colorado is still near the top of the NL in HR (2nd), doubles (3rd), and slugging (2nd).

The Cubs are no slouches with the big bats themselves. They are third in the NL in home runs and have been getting their hit on since the All-Star Break.

The Cubs are 3-3 on their quest to Mordor, errrr, I mean one of their longest road trips of the season and must now head to the Little League park that is Coors Field for four games.

While few of us probably care about the Colorado Rockies or what they do on a daily basis, this is a huge series for the Cubs because of two significant reasons: 1.) The Rockies are one of the top competitors for the wildcard and 2.) The Cardinals are playing the Pirates this weekend. Gulp.

The Matchups
August 7th – Carlos Zambrano vs. Ubaldo Jimenez
Big Z had a big back ache in his last start and was only able to pitch three innings against the Marlins. If Zambrano is dealing, I expect Lou to leave him in to go the distance. But if Lou pulls him after 5 innings (aside from a performance-based reason), then it might be time to start worrying about his durability. Zambrano has only given up 8 homers this season, which should bode him well in this park.

Sounds like Jimenez has a pretty nasty fastball that could top out around 100 MPH, so I’m expect a decent amount of off-speed pitches in this start. Although that plan worked out fairly well against the Reds, I’m not sure it will be as effective in the thinner air. The Great Ubaldo has pitched better on the road this season as opponents are hitting .257 against him at Coors.

August 8th – Ryan Dempster vs. Jason Marquis
Dempster looked much better in his second start coming off the DL, but he still walked four and the Cubs still lost. The Rockies lead the NL in walks, so this could be a recipe for disaster. Not to mention Dempster’s lifetime 15.23 ERA at Coors. Woof.

Well well well. If it isn’t Mr. Second Half McSuckerson. Marquis is notorious for having terrible numbers after the All-Star Break and I expect nothing different this season. He’s 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA so far, but it’s only a matter of time until he breaks down and wets his pants on the mound. Most of the homers Marquis has given up this season have come against righties, so that’s always good news for the Cubs.

August 9th – Randy Wells vs. Jason Hammel
I was thissssssss close (imagine me with a really small gap between my thumb and my index finger) to purchasing a Randy Wells jersey. All he had to do was pitch a complete game against the Reds. He came up five outs short. Impressive nonetheless. Still ,Wells is almost too good. I’m a bit worried that lefties are batting .276 with a .718 OPS against him. And since five regular starters for the Rockies bat from the left side of the plate, watch out.

Hammel gets pounded by the Mets then shuts down the Phillies. He sucks at home (1-3, 7.20 ERA) and is solid on the road (5-3, 2.81 ERA). I don’t understand this guy. As such, he deserves to be destroyed. He’s given up at least 4 earned runs in his last four home starts. Let the big dogs eat.

August 10th – Tom Gorzelanny vs. Jorge De La Rosa
Why even give the Cy Young to anyone else? Tommy GoGo has practically got it in the bag according to everyone in the Chicago media. Gorzelanny threw a gem against the Reds and all of the sudden the Cubs have too much starting pitching. People are talking about moving Dempster or Harden to closer so the Cubs can keep Gorz in the rotation. Please. It was a nice start, but let’s not go changing our underwear yet because of this guy.

De La Rosa is a completely different pitcher against lefties (.193/.248/.277) as compared to righties (.279/ .362/.494). That’s a huge difference. He’s never started against the Cubs but has faced them a handful of times in relief. Normally that’s a good thing, but then again we saw what Justin Lehr did to this lineup.

Conclusion
Before the Cubs head home to take on the Phillies, they need to get at least two games from the Rockies. I hate to keep bringing up the Cardinals, but 19 of their next 22 games come against teams that are below .500. Scoreboard and schedule watching mode is now in full effect.

I’m not overly impressed with the Rockies’ pitching, but that offense is scary. They don’t have a monster in their lineup like the Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, or Brewers have, but their order has very few weak spots from top to bottom.

I’m putting this one on the Cubs offense. If they can get out to some earlier leads against this very average starting pitching, then it will put pressure on the Rockies’ hitters and hopefully turn them hack-happy.

Also, this is the closest the Cubs will be playing to God all season, and everyone knows the Big Guy is a North Sider. Divine intervention is always welcome.

Go Cubs.
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Series Preview: Cubs at Cincinnati

Series Preview
Match-Ups
Overview

No number of expletives can justify how I feel after that series with the Marlins. The Cubs continue to find unique ways to break our hearts. That’s all I have to say regarding the incident yesterday.

Anyway, let’s focus on something that is sure to lift your spirits: the Cincinnati Reds.

I’ve heard the world “freefall” being used to describe the current situation Cincinnasty has been in for the last week, but I believe that is giving the Reds too much credit. Saying they are in a “freefall” implies that they were at some high point, but even when they were competing for the division lead the Reds were average at best. I believe “sinking” would be a better term…or unrestricted and unmitigated crapitude.

The last time the Cubs and Reds met was at Wrigley Field not long ago. The Cubs swept Dusty Baker’s squad and completed what now seems like a Mortal Kombat-esque fatality. I’m fairly sure I heard Lou Piniella yelling “FINISH HIM!” at some point during that series.

Although my knuckles have finally stopped bleeding enough so I can type after a punched a tree for several hours in the wake of the Savebot’s “pitching” performance, my anger still burns deep. By blood lust must be quenched. Bring on the matchups.

The Matchups
August 3rd – Randy Wells vs. Aaron Harang
In his last 12 starts, the Harangatang has gone 0-7 and hasn’t won a game since May 25. To be fair though, he hasn’t been getting much offensive support. In those seven losses, the Reds have only scored more than 2 runs twice. Still, Harang is getting shelled, especially by righties, who are hitting .309 against him.

Is there any starting pitcher who you have more confidence in right now than Randy Wells? On a pitching staff with so much talent, it amazes me that the guy who started the season in Iowa has become our most consistent performer. Wells needs to eat some innings in this game and give the bullpen a break – much like he did last week. If the Cubs go up big, is a complete game too much to ask for here? Probably, but if Wells does go the distance, I will finally buy his jersey. That’s a promise. Plus the pen is going to need some rest considering what is happening in the next game…

August 4th – Tom Gorzelanny vs. Johnny Cueto
Hey Johnny, you know that other young pitcher on the Reds named Edison Volquez? Looks like Doctor Dusty is recommending him for a little elbow surgery. Does this story sound familiar to you? If it does, then guess who’s next buddy. I love foreshadowing. In Cueto’s last four starts, he has giving up at least 9 hits. Not surprisingly, he didn’t win any of those games.

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but Gorzelanny hasn’t won a game as a starting pitcher since June 24…2008. The Gorz has pitched only in relief this season while in the Majors and has too small of a sample size to determine what will happen in this start. The Reds have hit lefties well (although not for power), so I expect to see lots of guys on base for Cincinnati. Lou might as well start warming up the bullpen now.

August 5th – Rich Harden vs. Justin Lehr
Lehr makes his second career start after walking seemingly everyone in his first game of the season. If control is his issue, then it should be a good night for the Cubs. Len and Bob have pointed it out several times throughout the season, but the more walks the Cubs get, the better the offense plays (side note: no sh!t idiots). If Lehr is going to give the Cubs free bases, who are they to say no. They don't want to be rude house guests after all.

Last week I mentioned that perhaps Rich Harden was a vampire. Well, I was wrong. He’s a friggin alien. Who is this guy pitching for the Cubs and what did they do with the real Rich Harden? Although he got a no decision in his last start, Rich did collect 11 strikeouts for the third time in his career. The Reds don’t strikeout much though, so Harden will need to keep the ball on the ground to be successful.

Conclusion
The matchups above are designed to analyze starting pitching and, to an extent, hitting. I’ve focused mainly on those two elements during most of the series previews that I’ve written. Clearly the bullpen was the focus in the last series though.

I expect the Cubs to hit and the starting matchups seem to favor the Cubs, but nothing is more important than the bullpen settling down and gaining some confidence. Right now I’d rather be given a prostate exam using a baseball bat than watch Gregg close out a game, but getting Savebot’s confidence back should be Lou’s primary focus. Cubs win two of three from the Reds.

Go Cubs.

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Series Preview: Cubs at Florida


Overview
What a difference a week makes, eh? Last Friday the Cubs were 1.5 games out of first place with the Astros and Brewers not far behind. Now the Cubs are in first after going 6-1 at home and the NL Central race seems less like a swingers orgy and more like a monogamous relationship.

The Cubs are 11-3 since the All-Star Break and are playing like the team everyone was having wet dreams about during the winter. They hit road next and will not be returning to Wrigley until August 11. First stop: South Beach.

Although the Marlins have won seven of their last eight games, they are currently 6 games behind the Phillies. Let’s not be fooled though my friends, the Marlins certainly have something to play for.

In their only meeting of the season, the Cubs took three of four games from the Fish in Chicago.

Needless to say, that means practically nothing now because this Cubs team is different than anything we’ve seen so far this season. Say what you will about the difficulty of their opponents during this hot streak, but the Cubs offense is straight ballin’ homie. I guess that makes this preview particularly hard write because the Cubs are actually…like…good on a consistent basis.

Alas, I will push on. To the matchups!

The Matchups
Friday, July 31st – Rich Harden vs. Chris Volstad
Baseball Reference has Volstad listed at 6’7’’…wait for it…and 190 lbs. Holy crap. Someone get this guy a cheeseburger before the wind picks up. While Big V can bring the heat with his fastball, the guy has suffered some control issues in his last two starts. He’s allowed 4 walks in both contests (giving up 1 earned run and 4 earned runs respectively). Expect the Cubs to be patient and test Volstad’s control.

After Rich Harden’s last start, at least we know that he is NOT a vampire. However if he is actually a vampire, then we are all screwed because they can walk among us during the day. Seriously though, Count Harden threw six innings giving up just 1 run while striking out 8 Reds during a DAY game at HOME. Since the ASB, Rich is 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA. He vants to strike you out.

Saturday, August 1st – Carlos Zambrano vs. Burke Badenhop?
We may not know what carcass the Marlins are going to roll out on the field for the Cubs to feast on, but all accounts seem to point to Burke Badenhop. This guy has been used mostly as a reliever all season, so it’s safe to say he won’t last more than 5 innings at best. Like Russ Ortiz, Badenhop (a righty) is stronger against left-handed hitters. I’m not sure if you saw what the Cubs did to Ortiz yesterday, but he was waived after the game by the Astros. Just saying.

Zambrano finally pitched like an ace in his last start but he still didn’t get the win. Such is life. The Marlins don’t take many walks (10th in the NL) and are notorious hackers. This should please Big Z as he seems to work better against teams with little patience. I predict many strikeouts. And the people rejoiced.

Sunday, August 2nd – Ryan Dempster vs. Rickie Nolasco
Nolasco, the “ace” of the Marlins’ staff, has not had an outstanding season so far. With a 7-7 record and a 5.24 ERA, I see no reason to fear him. One could argue that Nolasco is getting better as evident by the 2 earned runs he has given up in his last two starts. But one could also argue that my master’s degree will get me a job sometime soon. In both cases, you’d be wrong.

Dempster got shelled in his last start. To be honest, the guy should have probably pitched a minor league assignment before coming back to the big squad. Besides his walks, what worries me most about Dempster is the number of homers he has given up. In 2008, Demp gave up 14 dingers all season. Guess how many he has given up this year. That’s right, 14. This could be a high scoring affair.

Conclusion
I really like all the matchups this weekend for the Cubs. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think they could pull off the sweep. However I’m predicting they’ll lose at least one game (most likely Dempster’s start).

Like I said above, it’s hard to tell what to expect from the Cubs now. They could just be teasing us and we’ll have Cubbie Blue Balls at the end of this road trip. Or perhaps they will kick ass across America and come back to Wrigley in first with a nice lead.

I now want to use this space to welcome the newest members of the Cubs to our team: John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. Although I’m not thrilled about moving Marshall out of the bullpen, this was a decent trade by Hendry. So welcome to the team guys. We’ll love you until you screw up. No pressure.

Go Cubs.

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Series Preview: Cubs vs. Astros

Series Preview
Match-up
Overview

While I enjoyed watching the Cubs crush the hopes and dreams of children from Cincinnati this weekend, there’s no time to celebrate with the AssTrolls coming to town. Just like the Cubs practically ended the 2009 season for the Reds, they could do the same to Houston when this four game series is over. To make matters even better, the Cardinals start a four game set at home against the Dodgers. I enjoy this very much.

That being said, the Cubs could be sitting pretty by the end of the week.

Of course I’m getting a bit far ahead of myself and too optimistic/cocky for Karma’s liking, so I’m just going to stop thinking about the potential awesomeness that lies ahead and prepare for the worst.

The Astros come into Chicago after winning only one game against the Mets in Houston. It takes a special kind of suck to let the Mets score 8+ runs in two games. Hopefully they will bring more of that to Wrigley.

The Matchups
Monday, July 27th –  Wandy Rodriguez vs. Carlos Zambrano
Ah yes, the Wand-Rod. How I loath thee. I don’t know what it is about this guy, but he seems to always tear up the Cubs. He’s faced the Cubs twice already this season and has made them look like fools. He threw 6 innings and only gave up 4 hits and 1 earned run on April 7. Then on June 10 he pitched 7 innings giving up 1 earned run on five hits. Both of those games were played in Houston however. Welcome to the Thunderdome Wandy.

Big Z gave up 5 runs on 10 hits to the Phillies in his last outing, but he got the win so all was forgiven. Like Rodriguez, Zambrano has pitched against his opponent twice already this season. He’s pitched well in those games too.

Something’s got to give. Two men enter, one man leaves.

Tuesday, July 28th – Roy Oswalt vs. Ryan Demster
Dirty Demp returns from the DL, but who knows how he is going to pitch. His ERA is virtually the same at home (4.12) as it is on the road (4.00), yet Dempster is 4-1 at Wrigley compared to 1-4 everywhere else. Everything I’ve been reading says Dempster has been keeping his arm in shape, so maybe this will be less of a bloodbath than I’m anticipating. Control could be an issue.

Dempster’s job doesn’t get any easier having to go up against Roy Oswalt. Although he didn’t start off particularly strong this season, Oswalt has been pitching better as of late. The main issue for Oswalt seems to be his control. He already has 33 walks this season and is on pace to go well over his average of 51.
Wednesday, July 29th – Mike Hampton vs. Randy Wells
I look at Mike Hampton and I see a gas can covered in gun power inside a fireworks shop surrounded by a moat of nitroglycerin. Although he’s only given up nine homeruns this season, Hampton is one of the guys that makes me feel like I can actually enjoy watching the Cubs offense. He’s give up at least 7 hits in his last three starts.

Randy Wells continues to pitch decently enough where I might consider buying his jersey…or at least a jersey shirt. A lot of people have been talking about how the Cubs are missing Jason Marquis, but Wells is a more than suitable replacement as the “fifth” starter. Marquis might be hot now, but you got to love Wells’ potential. He’s 6-0 when the Cubs score at least four runs.

Thursday, July 30th – Russ Ortiz vs. Kevin Hart
With Lilly on the DL, Hart gets to stick around a little bit longer. I’ve been impressed so far, but other teams are unfamiliar with him, which has probably helped a little bit. He was finally able to cut down on the walks in his last start against the Reds. That can only lead to good things. Nothing makes me want to punch something defenseless in the face more than walks.

Russ Ortiz is a silly looking man. I’m not sure if it’s his cliffhanger-like nose or his oddly shaped body, but I can’t help but laugh when I see him. He actually pitches better against lefties than righties (Ortiz is right-handed), so it’s a good thing the big bats on the Cubs all hit from the right.

Conclusion
The Cubs are in a great position to move up in the standings and put some distance between themselves and the Astros/Cardinals (Not the Brewers though, because they get four games against the Natties). My hatred for Houston has been well documented on this site, so anything less than a sweep will be disappointing. However the realist inside of me says the Cubs will most likely go 2-2 or 3-1. The only game I expect the Cubs to lose is when Oswalt takes the mound.

Still, lots of reasons to be optimistic going into this series. Just don’t get too comfortable. Karma can be a biatch.

Go Cubs.

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Series Preview: Reds vs. Cubs

Series Preview
Match-Ups
Overview

Have you ever been in a relationship with somebody where, after it was all over, you just wanted to see your former partner ground into the dirt? It's not that you would ever go out and hunt him/her down, but you just want every bad possible thing to happen. You want him/her to get fired for looking at porn at work. Then you want his/her mother to be whisked off to rehab due to her raging alcoholism. Then you want him/her to lose their house and be forced to crash on a friend's couch. And the stress! You want him/her driven to perscription meds to overcome the building, unending swell of anxiety they feel -- and in the process you want your ex to gain about 100 pounds. Then, and only then, you want to run across that person. You want them to see you, looking great, your life moving in the right direction, even as he/she now weighs somewhere near 300 pounds, while sleeping on a couch, dealing with the trama of an alcoholic mother and the known history of beating meat on the company dime.

Wait -- you've never wanted that to happen to an ex? Me neither, but in baseball terms it's pretty close to how I feel about Dusty Baker. Never before had somebody promised so much and delivered so little. It's as if a con-man came to town, sold us our monorail, and skipped out of town with our money, our wives, and our hopes crushed by the looming shadow of that never-to-be-completed project.

Bitter? Me? Nah.

Still, if the Cubs fail to reach the playoffs I will feel a great consolation should they finish ahead of the Reds -- who themselves I pity for having great young players and pitching, all wasted on a manager who wouldn't know how to handle talent if given a step-by-step guidebook.

Match-Ups
Friday, July 24th - Aaron Harang (5-10, 4.17 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (5-4, 3.00 ERA)
Ah, Randy Wells. Man of mystery. For the remainder of this year -- and surely into 2010 -- I'll be wondering if Wells is the real deal. If he is, despite his remarkable start he's still most likely to project as a #3 starter.

Aaron Harang, meanwhile, was the real deal for two seasons before Dusty got his hands on him.  He was a two-time 16-game winner, who'd struck out 200+ in back-to-back years, before Dusty called on him to pitch in relief between starts last year.  For the remainder of '07 Harang wasn't the same.  So far this year, he's better than he was but not as good as he used to be.  Teams are batting .292 against him -- up 50 points from two years ago.

Saturday, July 25th Ted Lilly (9-7, 3.59 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (8-6, 3.67 ERA)
Last year, Lilly was a top pitcher for the Cubs ... except when he faced the Reds.  They owned him.  Lilly was 0-4 with an 8.15 ERA in his 4 starts against him.  The good news is that he's got a 0.00 ERA against the Reds so far this year ... (and an 0-1 record). 

Cueto, one of Cincy's most promising pitchers, has seen his ERA rise from 2.69 to 3.67 this month. 

Sunday, July 26th Kevin Hart (1-1, 2.30 ERA) vs. Micah Owing (6-10, 5.33 ERA)
Hart, like Wells, is unproven but with a good amount of promise.  I could think of worse teams than the Reds for him to continue to hone his craft against.

Owing is another young and promising pitcher, although he's not showing a lot of it this year.  Still, he's doing better than he did in '08, which is saying ...eh, something?

Conclusions
I may come back to add more later, but I'm out of time to write this.  But I'll reiterate what I first said -- I really dislike Dusty Baker.  I'm sure the Cubs will have their tough spots this series, but more than usual I'm rooting for a sweep.  Besides, if the Cubs can manage one, they'll pretty much have single-handedly knocked the Reds out of competition, as Cincy is hanging on by a thread.

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Series Preview: Cubs at Philadelphia

Series Preview
match-ups
Overview

Domo arigato Nationals.

The Cubs really could not have asked for a better way to start the back half of the season. I mean, think about it. A four-game sweep of a terrible team on the road, the starting pitching looked decent for the most part, the Savebot was able to get five crucial outs in a row, Alfonso Soriano might be getting ready to go on a tear, Aramis Ramirez flashed some power. All is well.

Until tonight of course.

The Cubs roll into Philadelphia to take on the Phillies who are the winners of eight straight…ruh roh Rhaggy.

Say what you will about the Nationals series, but these next three games are far more important in terms of determining what kind of team the Cubs will be in the second half of the season.

Unfortunately that match-ups are not in their favor…

The Match-ups
Monday, July 20th - Ted Lilly vs. Rodrigo Lopez
What makes me most uncomfortable about this game is not who the Cubs are facing, but rather who they are sending to the mound. An All-Star pitcher you say? Maybe half an All-star.

Although Lilly is nearly unbeatable at Wrigley Field (6-1, 1.86 ERA) he remains very mundane on the road (3-5, 4.66 ERA). The fact that he missed a start due to an injury no reason to get excited either.

The saving grace of this game is Lopez, who is the weakest link of all the Phillies starting pitchers. Although Lopez will most likely be replaced by Pedro Martinez in a few weeks, he could be dangerous since he is pitching for…you know…his job.

Tuesday, July 21st - Rich Harden vs. Joe Blanton
The good news: Rich Harden is 4-1 on the road with a 2.17 ERA. The bad news: Lefties are doing some damage to Harden. And guess who bats lefty for the Phillies? That’s right, Ryan Howard, Chase Utely, Raul Ibanez, and Jimmy Rollins. Great.

Blanton doesn’t have a particularly impressive record (6-4) or ERA (4.44) this season, but he leads the Phillies in quality starts (10). Blanton doesn’t appear to pitch better on the road or at home nor is he significantly more dominant against lefties or righties. He also doesn't appear to possess a neck -- my theory is that he ate it.  He does, however, give up a lot of home runs (19), especially to right-handed hitters (11). Maybe A-Ram, D-Lee, and/or Soriano could have a big night.

Wednesday, July 22nd - Carlos Zambrano vs. Jamie Moyer
Pitchers like Jamie Moyer terrify me. I wake up in a cold sweat thinking about a control pitcher with Moyer’s ability facing the Cubs. It’s been well documented that Moyer doesn’t have the best stuff anymore (mid-80s fastball), but the guy feasts on anxious hitters. That’s why he has like 200 wins against the Marlins. He makes those kids look stupid. This could be disastrous for the Cubs if they start to get hack-happy.

It seems like there were two runners on base every inning during Zambrano’s last start against the Nationals. Still he worked his way out of it and has somehow posted a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts. Regardless, Big Z is going to need to pitch more than 5 innings in this game. Lord knows the bullpen might be a little gassed after Harden pitched the day before.

This game could easily turn into a classic pitchers duel.

Conclusion
As of this afternoon, coolstandings.com has the Cubs at a 32.7 percent chance of making the playoffs. We will certainly know a lot more about that number three days from now, but I’m guessing it’s going to drop. I hope I’m wrong.

Go Cubs.

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Series Preview: Cubs at Washington

Series Preview
Match-Ups
Overview
At last, a four game series the Cubs should sweep!

The Cubs kick off the second half in our nation's capital, where they take on the modern-day lovable losing Washington Nationals.  (It's hard not to love this team, on pace for well over 100 losses, who can't even spell their names right on their jerseys!) 

Anyway, have you ever noticed how sometimes a player's first half will be like night and day compared with his second half?  I've always thought it was a bit mysterious that it happens -- but it does happen.  I can think of one or five Cub players who would love to have that happen to them this season.

In the meantime, Goat Rider Yarbage will be at the games, camera in hand.  He's promised to take pictures and add to the Game Recaps the kinds of details that you can't get from watching it on TV or -- lord forbid -- following along via internet feed and/or radio.

The Zambran-0-Meter
you may have noticed it hasn't been updated in a while.  I'm actually re-working it completely.  It will soon be known as the Zambran-0-Meter of Diminished Expectations and will only go to 90.  Stay tuned for that.

Match-Ups
Thursday, July 16th - Rich Harden vs. John Lannan
Rich Harden.  Oh, how the heart weeps.  Last year you were an ace, an unstoppable force on the mound whose tendons and sinew muscles could not stand up to the force fo your unnaturally nasty stuff.  Except this year you've ... well, you've kinda sucked ass.  I'm not sure why you would be the first guy out of the gate, but if there's a team you'll dominate it will hopefully be the Nationals.  P.S. -- be careful not to float too many meatballs to Dunn.

John Lannan, known in some circles as "creepy brows" appears to be your run-of-the-mill below-avearge pitcher with an unsual-for-his-talent ERA mixed with a typical-because-of-the-team-he-pitches-for mediocre record of 6-6.  This is his second full season in the bigs -- and last year he posted a 3.91 ERA with a 9-15 record and only 117 strikeouts to 72 walks in 182.0 innings of work. 

Friday, July 17th - Carlos Zambrano vs. Scott Olsen
Carlos has it rough.  "An ace with only 5 wins?" people cry.  Actually the lack of wins isn't really upsetting -- I mean, not sure if you noticed, but the Cubs haven't exactly been breaking records this year.  The only thing that concerns is his continued battle with good mechanics.  He has the tendency to drop his arm slot, lose velocity, compensate by pitching harder (without actually using his legs), resulting in tendonitis and injuries.  I'm not sure if the Big Moose just doesn't listen to Larry or if Larry just doesn't know how to keep Zambrano consistent, but either way Carlos will be better-served if he can figure it out fast.

Scott Olsen is another National lefty, this one with a mid 6 ERA new to Washington this season via the Marlins.  He's probably your run-of-the-mill #5 starter, posting a career ERA of 4.77 and a solitary winning season back in 2006. 

Saturday, July 18th - Theodore Roosevelt Lilly vs. Jordan Zimmermann
Lilly, 9-6, is at the peak of his tradability.  Then again the Cubs definitely won't be dealing him so long as they are within shooting distance of the division -- whether we think they'll actually achieve the Central crown or not. 

Zimmermann has an amusingly-spelled name.  He's also managed all of 3 wins in 15 starts this season, his rookie year, meaning that he and Randy Wells could probably share with each other heart-breaking stories of blown leads and no run-support.  Regardless, he's actually half-decent -- his ERA is 4.50, but he's got 84 strikeouts and only 28 walks in his 15 starts.  If he can cut the hits down and limit the homeruns, the Nationals might have their next ace.

Sunday, July 19th - Randy Wells vs. Garrett Mock
This is actually guess work on my part.  ESPN does not have Sunday's starter posted on their site.  But based on how long it will have been between starts and the other guy in the rotation (Kevin Hart), Wells appears the likeliest candidate to pitch.  I'm still amused by how long it took him to win his first game, and how he then won games 1-4 in rapid succession.

Garrett Mock is the listed starter for Washington, although he hasn't started a game all year long.  He's got an ERA of 6.92, he's walked 8 to 6 strikeouts, and if he indeed is the Sunday starter then I like the Cubs' chances.

Conclusions
As far as opening series go, the Cubs probably couldn't have asked for better opponents than the Nationals.  Washington is presently on pace to lose 114 games, putting them in a legendary category of suck.  Even the Cubs, who have been losing up a storm this year, should do well.

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Series Preview: Cardinals vs. Cubs - the battle for everything that's right and wrong in the world

Series Previews
Match-Ups
Overview
Okay, "the battle for everything that's right and wrong in the world" may be a bit of an exaggeration. But as we enter the final series before the All Star break, we have to come to terms with a few things.

First, clearly, this is a season in which the Everything that Could Go Wrong Effect is in play. Star sluggers get hurt, expensive players underperform, valuable role-players don't take to their new jobs, pitchers suffer hard luck losses, and everybody loses. I mean, that's what this is - a season of losses for the Cubs. Between losing games on the field they're losing players, to stupid injuries (Ryan Dempster), idiotic suspensions (Milton Bradley, Carlos Zambrano), and so-on.

In the meantime, off the field the Cubs are entangled in the longest, most embarassing team sale I've ever followed. Seriously, can they do nothing right? Tom Ricketts has been working on finalizing his bid for six months in a sale that has been ongoing for more than two years -- and right when you think the path is finally approaching the clearing, it turns out that some other jabrone might swoop in and buy the team. You know, just in case the other one doesn't take.

Consequently, the Cubs are stuck with a bunch of players who can't be traded -- they're too expensive or have no-trade clauses. And they can't upgrade without dumping salary because Jim Hendry bound his hands through throwing piles of money at Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley, and Kosuke Fukudome -- the most incompetent near-200 million dollar outfield in baseball this year. Even if the team gave up on the year and decided to trade off their parts they'd be hard to find takers for their biggest busts.

In other words, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. And yet, the Cubs could theoretically be in first place by Sunday night if they can dominate the Cardinals at home.

Not that it would be easy. Far from it, on the contrary, I don't think there's an intelligent Cub fan out there who thinks the Cubs will sweep. But it's kind of amazing to think that in this, our season of woe, despite all the things that have gone wrong the Cubs are within striking distance of a playoff spot. I mean, let's look at this season objectively. Your big money pitcher suffers terrible luck before breaking his toe and going on the DL for a month. Your ace setup man can't find home plate with a compass and a magnifying glass. Your star slugging third baseman makes a dive for a ball but leaves his shoulder back over there somewhere, forcing your slumping second baseman to play his position for months. Your entire outfield dramatically underperforms, taking what should have been a strength and turning it into a gaping, inescapable hole in your lineup. It turns out that your catcher is a pot head and the stress of the world knowing may have contributed to his horrible start to the season. Not to mention your fireballing, strikeout machine pitcher is getting lit on a regular basis up like one of said catcher's doobies. Oh, and your rival team's first baseman is having a season that Babe Ruth would be jealous of.

You'd think, with all of that, that your team would be in an epic battle with the Pirates for the NL Central basement. So I say again, as I have said before, maybe this thing is ours to lose. Because if that much can go wrong and they're still in the hunt, then they just might not go away. And if we can agree that there is no such thing as luck (rather, a lot of chance and coincidence) then before it's over the pendulum will swing the other way. Just some food for thought.

Match-Ups
Friday, July 10th Rich Harden vs. Chris Carpenter
Two often-injured, ace-like pitchers squaring off. One will get hurt. The other will ... also get hurt. (Just maybe not today.) It has not been Harden's year. He's in the final season of his contract and rather than going the Ryan Dempster route and pitching his ass toward a big pay day he's taking the Matt Clement route and pitching his ass toward becoming a free agent bargain for somebody other than the Cubs.


Chris Carpenter, meanwhile, has pitched more this season than he's done in the past two years combined. If he's healthy, it will be tough for a rocky Cubs offense to overcome.

Saturday, July 11th Ted Lilly vs. Brad Thompson
Lilly has proven to be Hendry's best acquisition. He has been reliable, steady, consistent, psychotic -- everything you look for in a #2 or #3 pitcher. He is also the sole representative of the Cubs to the All Star Game this year -- anybody remember how last year's game was practically the AL vs. the Cubs? Ahh, those were the days.

Brad Thompson should be nicknamed the Turtle. Go back and look at his player pic -- tell me that guy's not a terrapene carolina. Either way he's got a face like his curveball -- people love to hit it. Thompson is one of the weak links of the Cardinals rotation. This is a must-win game of the series.

Sunday, July 12th Randy Wells vs.Kyle Lohse

Randy Wells is my favorite baseball story. After pitching 8 games before getting his first Major League win, he's gone out and won 4 straight. Still, it seems as if he hasn't really captured the imagination of Cub fans like Wood, Prior, and Zambrano did. Maybe we're just a little more hardened now? Or are we afraid that he is the 2000's version of Amaurey Telemaco? At this point, though, I can comfortably say that I welcome the trading of other, more expensive Cub starters because Wells has convinced me that he is a worthy option to start for the team not just this season but next season as well.

If Brad Thompson is the weak link of the Cardinals rotation, then Kyle Lohse is the link connected to the weak link. (Yeah, that was a crappy metaphor, sorry.) Lohse has had forearm problems, causing him to miss games. I'm thinking it might be a mistake that he's scheduled to start the first game of the double header. If the Cubs can take advantage of his rust -- he hasn't pitched in over a month -- or if he hurts himself again and St. Louis has to turn to their bullpen early, then it just might be a Sunday route for the Cubs as LaRussa may have to keep Adam Wainwright in the night game for too long.

Sunday, July 12th Carlos Zambrano vs. Adam Wainwright
Everybody's mad at Carlos. He's not pulling his weight, they say. He doesn't have the composition -- or the stats -- of an ace. I can't blame people for feeling that way, but blaming Carlos for being 4-4 is similar to blaming Wells for starting 0-3. Zambrano has been pretty steady, he just hasn't gotten the run support.

Adam Wainwright is on pace to win 17 games. Therefore I hate him. That is all.

Conclusions
Who the hell knows? Maybe -- just maybe -- Rich Harden will revert to form, giving the Cubs the ability to win a 2-1 ballgame. Or maybe the Cubs will light Carpenter up and it won't matter. Maybe Brad Thompson will fail to elevate himself and get hammered by the Cubs. Can you imagine what would happen if they chased Thompson in the 4th, if Lohse had to exit even earlier on Sunday, and if Wainwright stayed in too long on Sunday night and gave up bundles of runs in the 7th or 8th?

I know it doesn't necessarily look it -- and it sure as hell doesn't feel it -- but this actually is a very good opportunity for a very bad-luck team. I'm not predicting sweep, but much as when the Brewers were in town I actually feel as if this is the Cubs' series to lose. And I ask you, for one brief moment, to consider what it would be like if they pulled off a big win. If the Cubs swept the Cardinals going into the break, wouldn't the second half look that much better?

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